As we celebrate the life of St. Mark, it’s appropriate we reflect on his greatest gift to us – the Gospel of Mark. Though it’s the shortest of the four Gospels, it is no less rich, complex and powerful.
Imagine you are sound asleep and dreaming, when suddenly your bedroom door bursts open, and someone shining a bright light in your face, shouts “WAKE UP! Get up!! You’re going to be late!!!” That’s what the opening of the Gospel of Mark is like. There is no infancy narrative, no genealogy or prologue, but simply a fiery prophet shouting in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord!”
And if you want to be prepared for this Gospel, you better put on your spiritual running shoes if you hope to keep up with Jesus because he is a man on the move.
There are a million things we could say about this Gospel, but let me share a simple structure for following the movement of the Gospel—Mark’s unique shape and style for telling us the Story of Jesus and a key metaphor for understanding his portrayal of our Lord.
The Saving Shape of the Gospel of Mark
The Way of Discipleship (8:22-11:11)
This structure is called a chaism, a literary pattern where the themes or terms in the first part of a text are reversed and repeated in the second.
The lifeless Judean wilderness where John is preaching is mirrored at the end of the Gospel by Christ’s passion, death and entombment. Next, the focus turns to Jesus’s time in specific geographic areas (Galilee and surrounding Jerusalem). At the center of the chaism (8:22-11:11) is the Gospel’s heart or central message: the way of discipleship. It answers the questions, “What does it look like to truly follow Jesus? What are the costs, challenges, and consequences of being identified with our Lord?”
The key metaphor for Mark: Jesus the Action Hero
As I said in the introduction, Mark portrays Jesus as a man on the move. This is a Gospel of action and Jesus is an ultimate action hero. “I’ll be back!” is credited to Arnold Schwarzenegger, but Jesus was the first to make that claim (Mark 8:31). Our Lord is purposeful, determined, and moves with a sense of urgency. Jesus is like an impatient lover rushing to his Passion. One of the ways Mark communicates this is his use of the Greek term euthus, which is translated in English as “immediately.” It’s used over forty times in Mark (for some perspective, it’s only used three times in John and Luke). In fact, “immediately” is used twelve times just in chapter one.
He’s not just on the move, he is moving with power and authority. The terms, power and authority are used nearly twenty times in Mark. His first miracle demonstrates his power over demons (1:21-28). Whether it’s demons, death, disease, defilement, defective bodies, or destructive storms – all submit to his power. In rapid fire succession, especially in the opening seven chapters, Christ is taking back all the ground lost to the powers of darkness. In evocative language, he is breaking into our world and “binding the strong man” (Mark 3:27, Catechism, No. 539).
But it’s on the Cross that we see Jesus as the definitive action hero. Here he not only saved a few, but the whole world from sin and death. Here he definitely conquered the “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4).
And that ties back to Mark’s structure: the way of discipleship is the way of the Cross (Mark 8:22-11:11). To take up our Cross and follow the Lord is to crucify the old selfish ways of thinking, speaking and acting. It is modeling for the world the message of God’s divine love: to make a full, free, faithful and fruitful gift of ourselves. As Anthony Bloom says, true “love is difficult. Christ was crucified because he taught a kind of love which is a terror for men, a love which demands total surrender: it spells death.”
But our spiritual death in Christ leads to true life, to joy, freedom and restoration, what the gospel truly means, “Good News!”
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